One week later, Baltimore's bitter Grey Cup loss still obscures the beauty of a near-perfect season for Don Matthews.
"There is a good feeling about what we have done -- to a point," the CFLs coach said. "It ruined the moment. It ruined the week. It'll be better with time of reflection. But that time hasn't arrived for me yet."
The perfectionist in Matthews has had a difficult time shaking his team's 26-23 loss to the B.C. Lions last Sunday. But there is life after Vancouver, British Columbia, and Matthews has begun his preparations for it.
What follows the high-wire act that marked Baltimore's first year in the Canadian Football League?
There is free agency in February.
There will be competition for jobs at training camp next June.
And, if Matthews has his way, there will be a return to the Grey Cup in November in Regina, Saskatchewan.
The message Matthews gave to his players before sending them into the off-season last week was a challenging one.
"I told the players next year I would expect 95 percent of this team back," he said. "But I also said I will challenge each one of them with the best player I can find. Plus, we will absolutely get into the free-agent market.
"We're going to take it to the next level."
The CFLs will lose no one to free agency this winter, thanks to a league bylaw that mandates an option year to every contract.
Ten players on the team have two-year contracts plus an option season, among them quarterback Tracy Ham and nose tackle Jearld Baylis. The rest have one-year contracts with options.
Matthews said the team already has exercised all options, which does not necessarily mean all players will be invited back to training camp.
The key element in any player movement hinges on the team's $2.5 million salary cap ($1.9 million for teams in Canada). According to Matthews, the CFLs were close to the cap this year.
That means they can add front-line free agents only after subtracting some significant contracts.
Running back Mike Pringle said he thinks the team should move to keep the major contributors here to help with fan identity. One way to ensure that continuity is to extend the contracts of players going into their option seasons.
"I think they should definitely do whatever it takes to keep quality players on the field, and ones that were here from the beginning," said Pringle, who heads into the option year of a contract he signed two years ago with the Sacramento Gold Miners.
"It'd be a shame to dismantle this group of guys for a reason like that, to stay under the cap. We have excellent attendance. The reason fans come out is to see the players."
Pringle, 27, who broke the CFL rushing record with 1,972 yards this year, is eager to sink roots here.
"I've been looking for a football home since I started playing professional ball," he said. "It'd be nice to finally find a home."
Among the players going into their option years who might merit such consideration are slotback Chris Armstrong, tackle Shar Pourdanesh, linebacker Matt Goodwin and cornerback Irvin Smith. Pourdanesh was voted the league's Most Outstanding Lineman of the Year, and Goodwin Most Outstanding Rookie. Smith and Armstrong were All-East picks.
Matthews was noncommittal on whether the team will reward players with new or extended contracts.
"We'll certainly honor their contracts," he said, "and we expect them to fulfill those contracts."
Meanwhile, the free-agent market opens Feb. 15, when contracts officially expire and negotiations can begin with any team.
Because any discussion of potential free agents could be construed as tampering, Matthews declined to identify players might be interested in. But there are several marquee-type players in this year's free-agent class who would be attractive.
Such as defensive end Tim Cofield, the Eastern Division's Defensive Player of the Year with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Or defensive tackle Rodney Harding, who matched Cofield's 16 sacks with the Toronto Argonauts.
If you are looking for receivers -- and the CFLs might be -- available talent includes Sacramento's Rod Harris, Edmonton's
Eddie Brown and Calgary's Allen Pitts.
Running back, a Baltimore strength, has two prominent names in Cory Philpot of the B.C. Lions and Mike Saunders of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
If the CFLs are looking for help in the interior offensive line -- Baltimore's pass protection collapsed in the Grey Cup -- there is guard David Diaz-Infante of Sacramento.
Matthews won't confine his search to the CFL, though.
"I'll sign NFL offensive linemen or receivers," he said. "I will work very hard to upgrade at every position. . . . n the free-agent market, this has become a good place to play. When we do go into the market, it will be to our advantage.
"The only way we improve is personnel. We don't need drastic improvement; we got within three points of our goal."